Calls to Stop “Barbaric” Drugging of Texas Nursing Home Residents

Antipsychotic medications can be dangerous for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Photo: David Pereias/Adobe Stock

by Mary Schuermann Kuhlman

AUSTIN, Texas – Texas has reduced the misuse of antipsychotics in nursing homes in recent years, but some advocacy groups say much more can be done.

Amanda Fredriksen, associate state director at AARP Texas, explained about 12,000 nursing home residents are being given antipsychotic drugs for no legitimate reason, perhaps other than the convenience of staff in caring for patients who otherwise might be difficult. She said these medications are intended to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disease and Tourette’s syndrome, but are dangerous for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

“These drugs can increase the risk of falls, increase blood glucose levels, they dramatically increase the risk of stroke – all these risks are well known,” Fredriksen said. “We outlawed physical restraints many, many years ago and now we’ve moved to chemical restraints. It’s fairly barbaric. “

Texas legislators are considering a pair of bills that would require the written consent of a patient or a family member before an antipsychotic drug is given to a nursing-home patient. House Bill 2050 was passed out of committee last week, and Senate Bill 1212 is expected to get a hearing in the coming days.

Fredriksen said there’s no dispute that providing daily care for those suffering from dementia is difficult. However, she noted there are other alternatives to antipsychotics, including music and memory therapies and safer medications.

“There are also behavior techniques that can be used to know how to anticipate some of the reactions from residents and intervene with different kinds of behavior techniques that don’t require any drugs at all,” she said.

Last session, the state passed legislation that required additional training for nursing-home staff. And Fredriksen contended written consent is the next move towards improving the quality of care.

“It added four additional hours of training for direct-care staff for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and so that piece is there,” she said. “Getting that consent is really a modest step to protecting residents’ rights.”

Texas nursing facilities reduced the unnecessary use of antipsychotics among residents by more than 56 percent between 2013 and 2018.

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